Finance & Banking
Following the 2016 Wells Fargo scandal in which the bank opened millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts to collect fees, federal regulators have worked to address and respond to the corporation’s illegal conduct. On February 2nd, 2018, the U.S. Federal Reserve imposed unprecedented restrictions against Wells Fargo & Co. when it capped the bank’s growth for 2018 such that it could not exceed the total assets owned at the end of 2017. This restriction marks a substantial departure from previous penalties issued for improper compliance. Changes in policies and procedures and this novel punishment reflect a notable shift in the national bank’s expectations of corporate directors.
Regulation in the financial sector is critical to preventing crimes that include fraud, money laundering tax evasion, human trafficking, aiding drug trafficking, and even financing terrorism. Despite the importance of regulation and banking institutions’ compliance with such regulations, many laws regarding money laundering are outdated and prevent efficient prevention of such crimes. Additionally, enforcement against large financial institutions is a difficult matter because of the harm that penalizing them could have on the economy.
Beginning January, 2018, U.S. citizens with unpaid taxes may find their U.S. passport applications denied and their existing passports revoked. The I.R.S. announced that it will begin implementation of procedures to notify the State Department of taxpayers the I.R.S. certifies as owing a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” This may come as a rude awakening to many Americans, although both the press and television news issued warnings going back more than a year ago.
The Trump administration is delivering on its promise to deregulate America. Since taking office, numerous regulations spanning everything from energy to health care have been repealed or weakened. The financial services industry is not immune to the deregulation movement. The Trump administration is acting through appointments, executive agencies, and legislation to deregulate the financial services industry. Proponents of deregulation claim the movement is needed after Dodd-Frank and strict post-financial crisis regulation. However, in deregulating financial services, the Trump Administration—and compliance professionals—should proceed cautiously.
The disclosures of major security breaches in 2017 such as Verizon, Equifax, Uber, the National Security Agency and the Transportation Safety Administration increased consumer concern about the safety of their personal and financial data. These disclosures also contributed to renewed Congressional analysis of data security standards in the financial services sector and review of current federal and state regulatory regimes. Insider cyber threats have become security remains a threat as well. In August 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced insider trading charges against seven individuals who gained access to confidential merger and acquisition data through a technology consultant’s misuse of an investment bank’s new computer system. State actions, governmental agencies and the financial services industry are actively combatting the growth of cyber-security threats.
Financial institutions often rely on outside vendors to provide information technology services. While doing so often provides economic efficiency and quicker technological innovation, the risks associated with outsourcing information technology services are significant. Institutions must develop strong vendor management programs to ensure the safety of their customer’s personal information. Several large financial institutions have come together to create a new consortium to perform vendor and partner due diligence.
As the president and the Republican Party inch closer to finalizing their proposed tax overhaul, one major proposed change is the repeal of the estate tax. The estate tax is a tax on an individual’s right to transfer property upon his or her death, usually to the individual’s surviving relatives or heirs. Currently, estates are taxed at a rate of 40% after the first 5.5 million. While the tax itself only impacts the wealthiest 0.2% of Americans, the inclusion or repeal of the tax in the Republican tax bill will affect Americans of all income brackets.
Consistent with modern financial regulation, United States regulators are increasingly focusing upon individual accountability of corporate officers and directors. Once a regulatory agency contacts a corporation regarding an inquiry into the actions of its agents, it is the duty of the corporation to front the costs of legal defense and representation. Historically, corporate directors and officers liability insurance (“D&O”) covered the costs of legal defense and costs associated with the regulatory investigation. In light of the increasing government emphasis on individual liability within corporations, traditional D&O liability insurance is no longer guaranteed to protect corporate exposure to regulatory inquiry. As a result of these changes to corporate exposure, insurance agencies have begun to create novel insurance solutions to solve the problems created by the new regulatory policy.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been notably quiet on the subject, is beginning to show an interest in the cryptocurrency craze. It published a report last July concluding that initial coin offerings (ICOs) are subject to securities laws and that one ICO which raised nearly $150 million worth of cryptocurrency violated securities law.
In July of 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) Director, Richard Cordray, implemented a rule regulating the ability of banks to prohibit class-action lawsuits from being placed within the fine print of their consumer contracts. By the end of July, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to overturn any recently issued regulation by an executive agency. The Senate subsequently voted to repeal the rule after a 50-51 vote, where Mike Pence cast his vote to break the 50-50 tie. On November 1st, 2017, President Trump signed the bill repealing the regulation.